Stacey Burr, Vice President of Wearable Sports Electronics, adidas, founded and served as CEO of Textronics, Inc., which incorporated the first wearable sensors for fitness and health, before selling the company to adidas in late 2008. She will be presenting "Looking to the Past and Jumping to the Future of E-Textiles" at Smart Fabrics 2012. Stacey recently sat down with "Future Materials" for an interview that was featured in their March 2012 issue, which appears below with their permission.
Future Materials: How did you get where you are today?
Stacey Burr: Like most people working in e-textiles, I arrived on a serpentine path into this new field. In the late 90's I found myself in the DuPont textile organization running the Lycra® Ready To Wear apparel business in North America. Bringing stretch fabrics into denim, sweaters, dress shirts and casual wear introduced me to many brands and retailers as well as to the fabric supply chain, from mills to cut and sew facilities. A group of DuPont researchers looking at bringing electronic and conductive properties to fabrics sparked an interest. Smallish, portable electronics were reaching consumers and we started thinking about the possibilities of using fabric and clothing, as a form factor, to "carry" or move signal, power or data. Several material inventions (all involving stretchy conductive textiles) and an optimistic belief that the market was ready for innovative clothing that "did more" drove the start of Textronics. Our small company needed focus and revenue in a hurry so the heart rate monitoring sports bra became our entry into the consumer market. That garment was the springboard of our learning and expansion into wearable monitoring systems.
Future Materials: What are the best and worst things about your job?
Stacey Burr: The best thing about my job is the people I work with. We have a fantastic team that's been together, through thick and thin since 2005. (A physicist, an electrical engineer and bra expert walked into a bar...). Many of us have known each other since the late 1990s. Working with them, in the environment we created together, has been a pleasure. Since joining adidas, we have expanded the network of great colleagues - smart, interesting, passionate. I also really enjoy meeting up with other innovators in this space. The talent is impressive and I love the war stories! When ill-suited industries bump together, the creative thinkers come out to play. I'm hard pressed to share anything that is "worst" about my job but there have been times when I wished that battery technology was light-years ahead!
Future Materials: What is keeping you busy at the moment?
Stacey Burr: Since Textronics became part of adidas we have been dedicated to innovations for the sports industry, particularly creating products for the miCoach® personal coaching platform. There is an exciting pipeline of new physiology monitoring systems that take advantage of the original EKG sensors as well as bring additional sensors onto the athlete.
Future Materials: What interesting developments have you seen in the field of smart fabrics recently?
Stacey Burr: I was most encouraged this last year to become aware of the increasing numbers of automated, continuous or roll-to-roll fabrication and assembly processes for electronic textiles. With this infrastructure coming into place it bodes well for higher volume/lower price points for tech-enabled textiles. The mass-production hurdles are starting to fall away.
Future Materials: What would you like to see in the future?
Stacey Burr: I can't wait to see where we are 10 years from now. I fondly hope that our field plays a part in "smarter" and better healthcare. I hope we can integrate wearable sensors to provide the data streams so that the super-smart algorithm guys can tease out individualized predictive trends that allow people to take preventive measures. If we can be part of providing early warning signs, by virtue of wearing elegant comfortable familiar clothing, I would be proud of the contribution to better health and vitality.
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